In a way, it is fitting that Gili Mosinzon was responsible for bringing to the forefront the issue of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) in Israeli sport.
The former basketball player announced last week in a long Facebook post that he is attracted to men as well as women, becoming the first professional male Israeli athlete, past or present, to do so.
While the notion of female athletes opening up about their sexual orientation has lost its taboo, even in Israel (for example former top- 100 tennis player and current Fed Cup captain Tzipi Obziler), it is still extremely rare for professional sportsmen to talk about their attraction to men, both in Israel and abroad.
Jason Collins became the first openly homosexual player to compete in the NBA after publicly announcing his sexuality in an article in Sports Illustrated magazine in April 2013. Collins, who made Time magazine’s 100 most influential list in 2014, retired later that year.
In February 2014, Michael Sam became the first openly gay professional American football player. He was drafted by the St Louis Rams later that year, amid a flurry of media interest, but is currently without a team.
Barack Obama was among those who sent congratulations at the time to Sam, saying: “From the playing field to the corporate boardroom, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Americans prove every day that you should be judged by what you do and not who you are.”
Mosinzon was known throughout his career for his off-court antics and colorful personality just as much as he was for his massive unfulfilled talent.
He still managed to play professionally on and off for 17 years, much of the time in the top flight.
His career peaked between 2005 and 2009, becoming a key player at boyhood club Hapoel Tel Aviv, as well as Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
The now 37-year-old even made one appearance for the Israel national team before his career fizzled out in recent years, in large part due to his conduct.
His final game in the BSL in February 2013 was especially memorable.
Mosinzon, at the time a player at Ironi Ashkelon, threw a ball at the face of then-Hapoel Jerusalem coach Sharon Drucker following the game between the teams after the two had clashed verbally during the contest.
Mosinzon had come out of retirement to play for Ashkelon, but after just four months with the team he found himself suspended by the Israel Basketball Association until the end of the season following the fracas with Drucker. He never made it back to the BSL, but has since become better known to the wider public, primarily due to his participation in several reality TV shows.
Mosinzon, the son of Israeli novelist and playwright Yigal Mosinzon, the author of the classic Hasamba children’s book series, often flaunted his womanizing ways, but until last week never spoke candidly about his sexuality.
“Today is Israel’s 68th Independence Day and this is the day in which I decided to celebrate my personal freedom,” wrote Mosinzon last Thursday. “There is a good chance I was born like this, but even if I wasn’t that makes no difference.”
Mosinzon went on to criticize the Israeli basketball establishment for being homophobic.
“Maybe sports clubs need to ask themselves, and the LGBT community should ask them and expect to receive answers like – what has the club done this year to help in promoting awareness of the LGBT community? Not much.
“For some reason, I was always coached by the chauvinistic and homophobic coaches who have made professional male sports the last patriarchal, deviant and dark stronghold,” added Mosinzon.
“Many old-school coaches today still berate players for running like homos, or sissies,” he wrote.
“That’s homophobia in 2016.
Unless sports bosses apply an orderly program, sports homophobia will be here, unchanged, also in 2046,” wrote Mosinzon.
Some gay athletes preferred committing suicide to coming out, he added.
“In male professional sports, you can count the number of players who came out of the closet on one hand. Some killed themselves.
Why? Ask the coaches, the chairmen and the audience why pro athletes don’t come out. I’ll tell you why. They’re afraid,” wrote Mosinzon, who said he was attracted to men from an early age.
Most of the reactions to Mosinzon’s revelation were positive, but there were those who took insult at his criticism of local basketball as a whole.
“I don’t like that people suddenly decide they are something they weren’t their entire life and then denounce everything that had happened beforehand,” said Shimon Amsalem, a teammate of Mosinzon at Hapoel Tel Aviv who was the target of homophobic songs throughout his career.
“I never encountered a homophobic reaction in the sporting world.
We always encountered curses like ‘Amsalem the gay’ and things like that, but that was mocking, not homophobia.
“It meant nothing and the players didn’t treat it with any significance as something which could affect the dressing room.” (Amsalem is not gay.) Mosinzon responded by saying Amsalem is in denial, claiming once more that men’s pro sports is the last place which has yet to “heal from that affliction of ignorance and boorishness.”
Mosinzon may well not be the spokesman the LGBT community was looking for. However, his brash attitude made him the right man for the job and his post last week brought plenty of awareness to the subject of LGBT in local sports, an issue which at the very least must be discussed.